Thanksgiving and Its Discontented in Montgomery County, Maryland

The flag of the United States of America
The flag of the United States of America

Thanksgiving is our annual day for family and friends, one divorced from any religion other than the civic religion of America. It's a holiday all but native Americans can embrace, from the newest immigrants to the earliest European settlers. As the country has evolved we've found innumerable ways to express our gratitude for being Americans. Yet this year, in a month when our attention has been riveted to waves of Syrian refugees flooding Europe, and punctuated by atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and Mali, one of our American communities is once again under attack -- Muslim Americans.

Montgomery County is home to one of the most diverse communities in America. I'm very proud to serve on our county's Committee on Hate/Violence. We celebrate our differences with festivals that bring everyone together, as well as encouraging all our communities to share the bounty of their neighbors. It isn't easy to do that, however, when the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, Donald Trump, calls for registration of Muslim Americans. "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely." Happy Thanksgiving, all.

The response was fast and furious. One tweet from the Muslim community echoed Pastor Niemoller from Nazi Germany: "I Will Stand Up For Muslim Citizens Because I Want Help When The GOP Come For ME." Many of the other Republican candidates rushed to distance themselves from Trump (for which, I suppose, we can be thankful this holiday). Reminiscent of Romney's "binders full of women" from 2012, Carson spun away from Muslims by advocating "for a 'database on everybody who comes into this country,' not Muslims specifically." Cruz, Rubio, Bush and Kasich demurred. Than Trump doubled down as his style, going huuuuge:

"We're going to have to look at the mosques. We're going to have to look very, very carefully," Trump said. Later in the day, he told NBC News that he "would certainly implement" a database system.
"There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases," he said. "We should have a lot of systems."

All this trash talking had the expected impact on the Muslim residents of Montgomery County and neighboring regions. In a series of telephone interviews, a number of our neighbors spoke of their pain and fear.

I will begin with Imam Faizal Khan, Co-chair of the Montgomery County Faith Advisory Council and the Islamic Society of the Washington area, who said:

It is very frustrating and difficult to control these random acts of violence. These are not Muslims. Politicians keep on talking about radical Islam. There is no radical Islam. In Islam, even in wartime, we are instructed to find peaceful solutions and avoid harming women and children and innocent people.

We can't allow these terrorists to hijack our religion.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about Islam in the media and a lot of incendiary rhetoric by some politicians against Islam and Muslims. For example: Carson in one of his speeches refers to Muslims as 'dogs.' The daily rhetoric in turn is translated into bigotry and acts of violence against Muslims.

Shahnaz Baten, a social worker with the Islamic Society of Maryland, from Gaithersburg:

This is a total human tragedy. Our hearts go out to the people of France. We know how it feels. Muslims know firsthand the horrible impact of terrorism. They themselves are victims of ISIS.

These are not Muslims. According to the scripture - in war, you fight face to face. You only fight those who transgress against you. You don't hide in mosques, and hospitals, and schools. How do you justify suicide? The media is continuously calling them Muslim terrorists. It is not fair to me as a Muslim.

It upsets me terribly to see people who are not Muslim scholars speak so freely about Islam. Why aren't our imams, those who have spent their lives studying the scripture, getting invited to speak on our behalf?

I listen every day to Fox and CNN and read the newspapers. I only see and hear about those blowing up themselves and killing others in the name of Islam. All the terrible bombardment is in turn translated into acts of violence against Muslims. They are not saying much about ISIS being responsible for killing more Muslims around the world.

I am most disturbed about the response of the Governor against Syrian Refugees. Governor Hogan's response to punish populations that are victims themselves of terrorism and find themselves guilty by association just because they are Muslims is terribly unfortunate.This cannot be the U.S. position. We are the beacon of hope, justice and fairness for all immigrants from around the world. Syrian refugees should not be the exception.

Imam Mohamed Sheikh Mohamed of the Muslim Community Center, Silver Spring:

Our community gets scared when they hear of acts of violence around the country in response to the Paris terrorist acts.

It is very disappointing that the media seems to hear from one source of information. Some of the Muslims they interview are not scholars and, therefore, do not convey an accurate picture of Islam and the Quran's message.

We need to collectively choose someone among the Muslim scholars community in the U.S. who is an articulate speaker who will be assigned to the media and convey an accurate picture of Islam to the world.

Farouq Musa, a senior Ambassador with the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring:

ISIS is not Islam. Islam is against the killing of innocent civilians. In the Quran, if you kill one person it is as if you have killed the entire humanity and if you save one life, it is as if you have saved humanity.

While in Montgomery County we have not experienced any acts of violence against the Muslim communities, still we are very concerned that eventually all the negative media coverage about Islam and Muslims could end up inciting acts of violence against us. We have been advised to stay vigilant.

I worry about our little children and teenagers in schools, about them getting bullied. They have no way of defending themselves.

Many people don't really know about us. They don't realize that Muslims are actively engaged with the interfaith communities. Our food pantries, our clothing drives, our medical clinic, our Ramadan daily free dinners for all (at MCC) for an entire month, are all offered with and in support of the interfaith community.

Finally, Rashid Makhdoom, a retired State Department executive and an active community volunteer, from North Potomac:

ISIS is the result of U.S action in Iraq. They are destabilizing the entire Middle East. More Muslims have suffered at the hands of ISIS than any other religious groups. ISIS is a horrible nightmare for all Muslims. They rely on the fear factor to spread terror throughout the world.

Some of our politicians are also using the politics of fear through their dangerous and inflammatory statements. They are spreading terror in the hearts of Muslim citizens throughout the U.S. This whole environment of fear will probably have a very negative psychological effect on our children as well.

I am very concerned about the backlash from the Paris terrorist attack on the Syrian refugees. They are themselves the victims of ISIS. Why are we punishing them once more for a sin they did commit? The U.S. is made up of immigrants. Mr. Trump's family would not be here if we did not have the immigration policy we have.

It is against basic U.S. principles and our value system to turn our backs to those who have been persecuted and those who are seeking liberty and a better life. Doesn't the Statute of Liberty says ' Give me your tired--- Your poor--etc.?'

When we gather around the table on Thursday, let us remember that only 5% of Americans polled in 1938 on the eve of Kristallnacht wanted to increase quotas for Jewish refugees, and 2/3 wanted to actively keep them out. We know how that played out. Three years later my European family had been exterminated, save for a remnant that escaped to Palestine. And Trump would create a registry and even consider requiring ID cards for Muslim Americans?

A former medical school professor of mine, Martin Seligman, who created "positive psychology," encourages people to express gratitude for even small, useless things on a daily basis. Take a moment before the repast to question your soul, and be grateful we live in Montgomery County, but know we can always do better.